James Murphy named Ludlow league's Artist of the Month

By John Boone of the Leader
Posted 9/22/15

Jefferson County hangs from the walls of painter James Murphy's studio and home. Canvas paintings fill nearly every available inch of wall, the lush colors and beautiful scenery reflecting the …

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James Murphy named Ludlow league's Artist of the Month


Jefferson County hangs from the walls of painter James Murphy's studio and home. Canvas paintings fill nearly every available inch of wall, the lush colors and beautiful scenery reflecting the artist's mind and the natural world he lives in.

"Much of my inspiration comes from the natural landscape," Murphy said. "We live in a beautiful area. I'll never run out of things to draw."

Murphy, a 20-year resident of Port Townsend, was recently named October's Artist of the Month by the Port Ludlow Artists' League (PLAL).

PLAL is a large and diverse group of artists. Meetings take place at 1 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at the Port Ludlow Beach Club, 121 Marina View Drive, Port Ludlow, and offer demonstrations or talks. Dues are $30 per year.

PLAL also operates a gallery in Port Ludlow's Upper Village, next door to Sound Community Bank, and hosts a reception for the chosen Artist of the Month on the second Wednesday of each month. Meet Murphy at the gallery at the next reception, 4-6 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 14. For more information, visit



Murphy likes to say he was "born with a pen in my hand."

While this probably isn't strictly anatomically correct, it isn't far off from the truth either.

When he was in third grade, his parents gave him a set of chalk pastels. He's been painting and drawing ever since.

He was born in the Midwest, and spent his early years bouncing between Iowa, Kansas and Missouri.

He attended college at the Kansas City Art Institute, graduating with a degree in industrial design in 1966. His first job out of college was in advertising, in Chicago. No matter what he did, or where his life took him, he always came back to painting.

"And at 72, I'm still painting," he said. "I still learn something every time I pick up a brush. Painting isn't something you outgrow."


The birth of his grandson prompted Murphy's first visit to Port Townsend. One of his two sons had moved here and begun a family.

"I fell in love with a child and a place," Murphy said. "I came back a year later to stay."

Port Townsend was never an obvious choice of residence for Murphy. For most of his life, he didn't even know the Olympic Peninsula existed.

"I didn't know there was anything west of Seattle," he said. "When my son told me he was living west of Seattle, I said, 'Isn't that the Pacific Ocean?'"

Once he discovered there was dry land out here, Murphy fell in love with it.


Murphy, a self-described impatient man, spent much of his painting career working with watercolors, which dry faster than other mediums. Recently he's been transitioning to oil, which takes longer to dry and can produce a clearer effect.

A few decades ago, he became intensely interested in collages. One example of this form that is displayed prominently in his living room is an austere scene centering around two ballerinas. The background is the same photo – a mountain in twilight – repeated three times. The dancers' lily-white skin stands out in stark relief against the blackness behind them. White text snakes between the two dancers, drawing the viewer's eyes to the eternally embalmed pair.

He describes the difference between internally and externally generated artwork. His collages are internally generated, pieced together from other media to create an image he imagined within his mind.

These days, most of Murphy's work takes the form of landscape paintings; he said these are externally generated.

The workflow for his landscapes typically take several steps, and he might tinker with one painting for several years before he's satisfied with the image.

To start, Murphy takes his sketchbook to a place he can be surrounded by nature – Fort Flagler State Park is a local favorite.

"Then I just see things in nature," he said.

Whatever catches his eye, he sketches, then takes that sketch to his studio.

He starts small, painting on an 8-by-10-inch canvas. Most of his artwork doesn't get beyond this step. The pieces he feels have special potential he transfers to larger canvas, often adding to them as the steps progress; a different background here, a figure there.

The trick for Murphy is to never stop creating.

"I'll never stop painting," he said. "There will be stuff unfinished on my easel the day I die."


Murphy displays his work in galleries around Jefferson County, with a recent show at the Port Ludlow Bay Club.

The very soil of the area inspires him; he considers the garden he grows behind his home an extension of his artwork. The drought this summer was hard on his plants, but he managed to keep his roses alive.

He also attends drawing classes at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.

"Life is pretty good," he said. "I have time and space to paint to my heart's content."